Entering the pharma industry as a new graduate

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If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to move straight into an industry role in pharma after college, Aoife Dillon has some insights.

She became a manufacturing biotech associate at MSD’s biologics facility in Dunboyne, Co Meath after graduating from analytical science at Dublin City University (DCU).

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Here, she talks about her typical responsibilities and why she believes more graduates should feel confident applying for industry jobs.

‘The diversity ensures I am getting a well-rounded experience of what it’s like to work in a pharmaceutical company’
– AOIFE DILLON

What drew you to MSD when you were seeking work as a graduate?

In my final year, DCU invited companies to come and present to my class. As part of their presentation, MSD Dunboyne Biologics had recent graduates attend the session which allowed the opportunity for an insightful Q&A. It allowed for a view into what it’s truly like to work for a company like MSD when you’ve just graduated.

Their experiences really resonated with me. They had recently been through the process themselves and I found their insider view reassuring, and it made the possibility of applying with MSD less daunting.

I was excited to hear that the site in Dunboyne was a start-up initiative; the team had a real vision for the site’s future. It encouraged me to apply as I knew I would feel part of the journey as the site achieved its goals.

Although I studied science subjects such as chemistry and biologics in college, I was a little apprehensive of starting in MSD as it was my first industry-based role. However, I was reassured very soon after joining the team that I would be fully supported in integrating into my position.

I would recommend to other graduates not be too restrictive in your career goals; you don’t need to have previous industry experience to start your career with a pharmaceutical company following graduation.

Can you describe a typical day in your role?

It’s a cliché, but no two days are the same! I do everything from writing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to participating in mock batches in Upstream and Downstream processing.

We have a big focus on putting safety first at Dunboyne. We have regular safety walks in the manufacturing suite to identify any hazards and ensure there are mitigations in place to prevent any accidents or injuries. I’m never stuck in one area and I’m learning about each process from start to finish.

This diversity ensures I am getting a well-rounded experience of what it’s like to work in a pharmaceutical company. As a result, in a short space of time my knowledge has grown ten-fold.

How do your responsibilities compare to those of more experienced employees?

As we are currently working in the start-up project phase at MSD Dunboyne Biologics, I work on similar tasks as more experienced employees, such as change controls and investigations. Each manufacturing shift is divided out across our unit operations into what we call ‘cell teams’.

More experienced employees in the manufacturing hub take on the responsibility of cell team leads. In these cell teams, we work on updating SOPs and training materials, and building our knowledge through capability-building exercises.

When we move to sustain operations, this will change slightly. More experienced employees will have different day-to-day tasks and will take on more responsibility as coaches. Coaches are who we go to for support and insight when it comes to problem solving and troubleshooting.

I have direct relationships and ongoing engagement with management and leads and there’s a real focus on cross-collaboration of the hubs and levels, which is great. We’re constantly encouraged to ask questions and get involved, and you’re really empowered to give your opinion.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

In addition to the technical skills I use for manufacturing activities, I use my communication, teamwork, collaboration and leadership skills each day. I facilitate our shift handover meeting, which helps us ensure a smooth transition from one shift to the next and means all necessary tasks are completed during our shift.

As we walk through the tasks for the day ahead at our handover, we work as an agile team and flow to wherever the work is during that shift. My daily role also involves tackling issues as they arise using various problem-solving techniques.

At the moment, I am collaborating with process engineering and automation hubs to work on building the electronic batch records for our new processes. This involves providing input from an operations point of view to ensure the batch records align with our SOPs and risk assessments.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

The most challenging aspect of my day is managing the tasks at hand. Due to a demanding schedule and stringent deadlines, I need to be on top of my to-do list at all times, so time management is very important. There are also multiple platforms available to ask for support when necessary, such as through my people lead or at our tier meetings.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I love the culture at MSD Dunboyne. Everyone is genuinely very friendly and there’s a strong willingness to teach, explain and encourage across the site. You’re empowered to learn all the time and it’s a very dynamic, fast-paced site.

We adapt quickly as a result and our operations are flexible, evolving to meet the varying needs of MSD’s global operations.

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